Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Factors: Andre Johnson

One of the NFL's best receivers notched a -2.3% DVOA last year. Does a target-by-target breakdown show he was better than that?

29 Oct 2009

7th Day Halloween Adventure

by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub

Score one for the humans over the computers! Rob was one pick away from a perfect week last week, going 9-1 and making up ground on both of the computer nerds. Is he in the zone? Will his knowledge stomp the emotionless computers for a second week in a row?

This Week's Games

(Teams are listed according to BCS ranking.)

North Carolina (+17) at No. 13 Virginia Tech (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Another national TV appearance for the Tar Heels, fresh off choking away a three-touchdown lead against Florida State a week ago. For an encore, UNC travels to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech, who are anxious to erase the taste of a crushing loss at Georgia Tech on Oct. 17. Tyrod Taylor, who is a surprising sight in the top five of national passer rating (159.7), picked a bad time to regress, throwing two picks, twice the number he had thrown all season. Virginia Tech will test UNC’s lone strength, an active front seven, with its strong rushing attack.

The Hokies are still alive for a berth in the ACC Championship game, but require a sizable upset by Wake or Duke over Georgia Tech. That also means not getting upset themselves. Since UNC’s offense finally showed signs of life last Thursday, this portends to be a much more difficult task.

The Picks -- Rob: Va. Tech (LOCK) | FEI: Va. Tech (LOCK) | S&P+: Va. Tech

No. 21 West Virginia (-3) at South Florida (Friday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ESPN)

There has been a common pattern in the Big East conference lately. The year begins with a fair amount of mystery over the end-of-year pecking order with at least two-thirds of the conference positioned as likely contenders. This is followed by September/October dominance by a few teams to create some separation and make everyone wonder what the preseason fuss was about for the nobodies. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia are your undefeated contenders, and they don’t play their round robin for several weeks. The Mountaineers won an emotional game against Connecticut last weekend on the strength of Noel Devine’s 191 all-purpose yards. South Florida has adopted their traditional pattern as well -- a hot start followed by an October swoon, this time due to playing the Big East big three in consecutive weeks. The Bulls’ offense has been sputtering under B.J. Daniels, and the defense has lost its early-season moxie. Billboard jinx?

The Picks -- Rob: USF | FEI: West Virginia | S&P+: USF

Purdue (+7) at Wisconsin (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Both teams stand at 2-2 in conference play, one is two games below .500 overall, and yet this is arguably the best game of the Big Ten this week? Talk about a conference with a bit of an image problem. At least part of the intrigue here relates to the programs heading in opposite directions. Wisconsin was eyeing bigger and better things a few short weeks ago, but losses to Ohio State and Iowa have humbled them once again to the conference’s second tier. Purdue, on the other hand, is on a bit of a hot streak with two victories over the mighty Buckeyes and well-short-of-mighty Illinois Illini. Four of the Boilermaker’s five losses this year came by a single score, including down-to-the-wire defeats at Oregon and against Notre Dame. They’re still clinging to bowl hopes, and a victory in Madison may put Purdue on the second-half trajectory of North Carolina State and Rutgers from a year ago.

The Picks -- Rob: Purdue | FEI: Wisconsin | S&P+: Wisconsin

No. 25 Mississippi (-3.5) at Auburn (Saturday, 12:21pm EST, ESPN 360)

In mid-September, we were patting ourselves on the back for our out-of-the-box projections for these two teams. The world thought awfully high of Mississippi and everyone seemed to be anticipating disaster for Auburn, but our Football Outsiders Almanac projected the opposite. But after a roaring start, the Tigers have slumped with three straight losses to Arkansas, Kentucky, and LSU. Meanwhile, the Rebels have recovered some of their preseason mojo and still may be on track for a top-10 finish. The Auburn offense has been steadily regressing over the last 4 to 5 weeks while Mississippi’s defense has been stout, allowing more than 17 points only once all season (22 against Alabama). Heralded Rebel quarterback Jevan Snead’s first real breakout game of the season came last week against Arkansas, though he still threw two picks. He’s been an interception machine this year. The Auburn defense has only logged one in its last five games, after grabbing eight in its first three.

The Picks -- Rob: Ole Miss | FEI: Auburn | S&P+: Auburn

Southern Miss (+6.5) at No. 18 Houston (Saturday, 1:00 p.m. EST)

Remember Houston? The team who defeated two Big 12 South teams -- Oklahoma State and Texas Tech -- on their way to the top slot in the non-BCS conference pecking order, only to get their doors blown off by UTEP and disappear from national consciousness? Well, all they've done since their doomed trip to El Paso is beat a third BCS conference team (Mississippi State) and easily take care of business against two lesser conference foes. Quarterback Case Keenum has a chance at reaching 5,500 passing yards and 40 touchdown passes by season's end. The Cougars face a tricky Southern Miss opponent that absorbed the loss of starting quarterback Austin Davis and didn't miss a beat. With Martevious Young running the show and star sophomore receiver DeAndre Brown getting better and better, the Golden Eagles could be close to establishing themselves as the team to beat in the Conference USA East division -- at least if they can overcome a brutal closing stretch that includes West stalwarts Houston and Tulsa, and East co-leaders Marshall and East Carolina.

The Picks -- Rob: Houston | FEI: Houston | S&P+: Houston

Georgia (+15) vs. No. 1 Florida (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

Don’t call it a Cocktail Party! The last two Drink-Till-You-Puke Festivals were centered on displays of poor sportsmanship (Georgia’s all-in celebration on the field, and Florida’s rub-it-in timeouts as payback). This year, the teams have more important things to worry about, like their own standards of play, which have fallen short of expectations. Tim Tebow, it pains one and all to say, has been merely decent in 2009, far below his GOAT level from the past two seasons. A breakout performance against an arch-rival would be a good place to get the Heisman campaign on tack. Tebow is tied with Herschel Walker SEC rushing touchdown record at 49, and the Bulldogs are vowing not to let Walker’s record fall on their watch. That would mean a considerable improvement in tackling, a bugaboo that has heightened the likelihood defensive coordinator Willie Martinez is fired at season’s end.

The Picks -- Rob: Georgia | FEI: Florida | S&P+: Florida

Kansas State (+28) at Oklahoma (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. EST)

Just as everybody predicted, Kansas State enters the last weekend in October atop the Big 12 North.

That is what everybody predicted, right?

The Wildcats have benefited from an easy start to Big 12 play, beating Iowa State, Texas A&M and Colorado (and getting their doors blown off by Texas Tech) in moving to 3-1. They are the only North division team with a winning conference record. However, the slate is about to get tougher. Before they can take on the North's original three main contenders -- Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri -- they have to travel to Norman to face Bill Snyder's old assistant, Bob Stoops. How good is Kansas State, really? If they can stay within 17 of the Sooners in Norman, they are absolutely ready to contend in the diluted North.

The Picks -- Rob: Oklahoma | FEI: Oklahoma | S&P+: Oklahoma

No. 22 South Carolina (+5.5) at Tennessee (Saturday, 7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Fans of the forward pass, look elsewhere. The Gamecocks and the Volunteers are the third- and sixth-ranked pass defenses in the nation, respectively. The one player on the field who might bust through the defensive blanket is USC wideout Alshon Jeffery, a freshman sensation who caught the winning pass last week against Vanderbilt. Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin allegedly told Jeffery he’d “end up pumping gas” if he signed with Carolina -- doesn’t Lane know the gas stations are all self-serve these days? Focusing on intra-conference spats instead of game management likely cost Kiffin and the Vols a huge upset over Alabama last Saturday, Moral victories aside, Tennessee is 3-4 (1-3), and needs a win. Historically, they own South Carolina. The Vols lead the series 21-4-2, and the Gamecocks have won only once at Neyland Stadium.

The Picks -- Rob: South Carolina | FEI: South Carolina | S&P+: Tennessee

No. 3 Texas (-8.5) at No. 14 Oklahoma State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ABC)

One of two things happens in Stillwater Saturday night: Either Texas wins and looks at a near-cakewalk through the last month of an undefeated regular season, or Oklahoma State wins, bringing into view the strong possibility of another three-way 7-1 tie in the Big 12 South (since Oklahoma would still be likely favored over Oklahoma State in Norman). Of course, Texas would win the "BCS ranking" tie-breaker going away this year, but that's not saying it wouldn't still be fun, especially since the tie-breaker Mack Brown proposed last year (eliminate the lowest-ranked of the three teams -- probably OU -- and pick the winner of the remaining two via head-to-head) would have, in this scenario, picked Oklahoma State over Texas. In all, this will be a stout test for Texas, who looked almost flawless in last week's win at Missouri. Oklahoma State can match athleticism with the Longhorns better than most teams, and they usually play Texas pretty well ... for the first half, at least. Can the Cowboys move the ball on Texas with running back Keith Toston and wide receiver Hubert Anyiam instead of Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant?

The Picks -- Rob: OSU | FEI: Texas | S&P+: OSU

No. 5 USC (-3) at No. 10 Oregon (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ABC)

We’ve been here before. For almost all of this decade, USC has reigned as college football’s and the Pac 10’s uber-program. Even after head-scratching losses to conference non-contenders, the Trojans have had a knack for stepping into the spotlight and stomping out any doubt that they alone control the league. The Trojans come into this one with questions to answer on defense -- Notre Dame and Oregon State managed to put some points on the board after USC two non-garbage touchdowns in its first five games. This marks USC’s fourth road trip against a ranked foe this season, and they passed the previous tests with freshman quarterback Matt Barkley at the helm playing strong and confident. His second-half interceptions against the Irish and Beavers helped aid those near-comebacks, however, and Oregon’s defense may be the best USC has faced all season. The Ducks’ offense, led by pass/run threat Jeremiah Masoli, has been rolling lately, especially in the second half. Four Oregon opponents were held to their lowest point total of the year against the Ducks.

The Picks -- Rob: USC | FEI: Oregon | S&P+: Oregon (LOCK)

Storylines of the Week

Rob Weintraub: It’s the Year of Defense in college football, something I realized was going to happen when writing the previews for the FO Almanac. "The defense is way ahead of the offense," was a phrase I found myself using over and over. I guess the hard boys around the nation got a little tired of the endless gush over the likes of Tebow, McCoy, and Bradford, and decided to teach the pretty glamour boys a thing or two. The top squads -- Florida, Texas, Alabama -- all have offensive issues but rock-ribbed defenses. Even the potential BCS Busters, TCU and Boise, aren’t the high-flying, trick-play machines of past years -- they too rely on punishing defense (especially the Horned Frogs). I can’t wait for a 3-2 BCS title game, personally.

Brian Fremeau: Notre Dame is hosting a game in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday night against Washington State. Odd? The geography is a bit puzzling, as is whether or not this should be considered a home game or neutral site contest. Notre Dame controls the gate and TV rights, and the crowd will mostly be comprised of alumni living in the South. But are those the primary factors in play when we talk about home field advantage? This is the first game of a new scheduling model for Notre Dame, one that will feature an "off-site home game" every season as part of their current TV contract. A game in Yankee Stadium awaits next year, as well as one in the Dallas Cowboys' new digs down the road. These come at the expense of true road games, of course, played in the opponent's home stadium. That phenomenon is certainly not unique to Notre Dame -- 50 FBS teams play only five road games this year, and a dozen play only four. Since the Pac-10 elected to play a round robin schedule instead of a 12th-game cream puff, it leads the way among BCS conferences in the number of teams playing a balanced home-away schedule (six of 10 teams). In the name of competitiveness, that is worth celebrating.

Bill Connelly: Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of one of college football's most impressive, famous plays: Billy Cannon's Halloween night punt return to defeat Ole Miss in a battle of not only two of the best teams of the 1950s, but also potentially two of the best teams of all-time. It may not have the national notoriety of Flutie's hail mary or Johnny Rodgers' punt return, but it was an amazing play that every LSU fan is shown three times, in a row, at birth. It is a great game worth noting, but here's my question: In a football world where "the third Saturday in October" means something very specific, and where SEC teams have too many scheduling traditions to count, why in the world don't LSU and Ole Miss play on the last Saturday in October? Or at least every time Halloween falls on a Saturday?

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob FEI S&P+
North Carolina +17 Virginia Tech VT* VT* VT
West Virginia -3 South Florida USF WVU USF
Purdue +7 Wisconsin Purdue Wiscy Wiscy
Mississippi -3.5 Auburn Ole Miss Auburn Auburn
Southern Miss +6.5 Houston Houston Houston Houston
Georgia +15 Florida UGa Florida Florida
Kansas State +28 Oklahoma OU OU OU
South Carolina +5.5 Tennessee S. Caro. S. Caro. Tenn.
Texas -8.5 Oklahoma State OSU Texas OSU
USC -3 Oregon USC Oregon Oregon*
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  Last Week Season Total
S&P+: 7-3 (0-1) 45-33-2 (4-4-0)
FEI: 5-5 (1-0) 36-42-2 (3-5-0)
Rob: 9-1 (1-0!!) 35-43-2 (1-7-0)

Remember to discuss games all weekend long on our new college football discussion board.

Posted by: The Outsiders on 29 Oct 2009

11 comments, Last at 30 Oct 2009, 6:32pm by Will

Comments

1
by AnonymousA (not verified) :: Thu, 10/29/2009 - 5:31pm

"Score one for the humans over the computers! Rob was one pick away from a perfect week last week, going 9-1 and making up ground on both of the computer nerds."

Disagreed. Rob has gone from the most informative predictor to being middle of the pack -- all three sets of picks are within 3 picks of each other.

The only question left is whether 45/78 is statistically different from 39/78 -- 50% (i.e. no information added). My personal guess is "no", and that the lesson is that Vegas is pretty good at what it does.

2
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/29/2009 - 5:52pm

4-6 (0-1) last week, as the anti-consensus Edelstein saw its first failure of the season. 37-41-2 (4-4).

This week I'll take VaTech, West Virginia, Purdue, Auburn, Houston, Georgia, Kansas State, Tennessee, Texas, and USC, and for the Edelstein lock I'll give the anti-consensus another try and go with the WildSnyders.

3
by Brendan Scolari :: Thu, 10/29/2009 - 6:28pm

I've never tried predicting all the games listed here before but I'll give it a shot. We'll see how it goes, I'm guessing not well...

Anyway, I'll take North Carolina, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Houston, Georgia, Kansas State, South Carolina, Texas, and USC, and for the Edelstein lock I'll go with USC.

4
by zlionsfan :: Thu, 10/29/2009 - 6:42pm

As a Big Ten alumnus, I would suggest that the conference's problem is not one of image as much as it is a problem of coaching. Of the three schools who usually have a chance to make some national noise, one plays not to lose (OSU), one schedules not to be challenged (PSU), and then there's Michigan ... they're certainly much better than last season, but they were really bad last season. I believe Rodriguez can make them conference-competitive, but I'm not yet sure if he can make them nationally-competitive.

Even if one of those three has a solid regular-season run, questions haunt them the entire season (certainly true during the Carr years at Michigan; the jury is out, as they say, on RR to date). If anyone outside that group makes a run for it, like Iowa this season, it's hard to see them as anything better than the best of an average conference. The Hawkeyes have really only stomped Iowa State this season ... certainly the win at Penn State was good, but if Penn State isn't that good ...

Unfortunately, with only one postseason game per team, there isn't much chance for an Iowa to make the conference proud ... of course a tough first-round draw hurts a tournament team just like a bowl team, but the tournament team gets more opportunities. (For what it's worth, I don't think the "road" bowl games are that big of a deal. If the Big Ten had a dominant team, it would go into Pasadena or Miami or wherever and kick some butt. Dominant teams don't have to play at home.)

5
by JustinK (not verified) :: Thu, 10/29/2009 - 6:53pm

"Tyrod Taylor, who is a surprising sight in the top five of national passer rating (159.7), picked a bad time to regress, throwing two picks, twice the number he had thrown all season."

This strikes me as particularly lazy commentary given that one was a tipped pass, the other was a Hail Mary at the end of the half, and neither played any role in Georgia Tech points.

8
by aster (not verified) :: Thu, 10/29/2009 - 8:03pm

I've found these guys simply don't do their homework much of the time. They basically go from the box score and conventional wisdom, then doll it up with a little erudition to make it sound insightful.

I notice plenty of omissions, mistakes, and stuff taken out of context with the conference I follow (Pac 10) and would assume I'm getting similar misinformation about the others.

9
by bird jam :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 6:30am

Yeah, and

"Focusing on intra-conference spats instead of game management likely cost Kiffin and the Vols a huge upset over Alabama last Saturday"

I really couldn't believe it in the fourth quarter last week when the game was on the line and Kiffin was focusing on intra-conference spats on the sideline. Wait, what?

6
by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Thu, 10/29/2009 - 7:28pm

I was surprised to see that Sagarin's Predictor would take Florida. Personally, I think every game this season I would take the points with Florida's opponent.

I've predicted for about 10 months that Florida would suffer more than expected by the loss of Percy Harvin (and to a lesser extent, Louis Murphy). It is much easier on a QB to throw to a receiver who can get 3-5 yards of space from receivers. I just don't see the current receivers getting much separation (in college terms, in NFL terms the receivers may be getting "open").

7
by peachy (not verified) :: Thu, 10/29/2009 - 7:54pm

Harvin's absence does really hurt, though I would say his best attributes in the passing game were his sure hands (he was butter-fingered as a freshman, but after that it was always a surprise when he dropped a ball), and his uncanny ability to get another two or three yards after contact almost every time. He was absolute money on third-and-medium.

10
by Joseph :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 11:34am

Since I didn't read this last night, I just have one comment--it looks like Rob is back to his anti-Edelstein lock ways.

11
by Will :: Fri, 10/30/2009 - 6:32pm

Yeah, anti-Rob lock once again proves to be a pretty good bet!

Will